Examples are great tools to teach any concept. Interestingly, every category of learner can benefit from examples. A great teacher knows that, to teach a new concept, he or she needs vivid examples to take learners from the known to the unknown. Once students grasp what is known, they can much more easily transfer its attributes to that which is unknown.
In our passage today, Paul offers himself as an example for his Christian brothers and sister to follow in the midst of contradictions. He had a huge pain in his heart. It was serious enough to draw tears from his eyes. His pain was the way many of God’s people lived, “as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
But is that possible? For people who profess faith in Christ to live as enemies of His cross, pain, suffering, crucifixion and death? In other words, they hate to hear and they resist anything that has to do with pain and suffering. If anybody was suffering, they claimed it was because he has either sinned or simply had no faith or spiritual ability to truncate the suffering.
It reminds me of the drama recorded in John 9:1-3 – “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” What? That ran contrary to their theology. What has pain got to do with God’s intentions? Pain must be of the devil and it must be resisted firmly, they say. But is that right?
Jesus told His disciples about His suffering that was to come and eventual crucifixion in the hands of religious leaders of the day, but they would have none of it. Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him for His “negative confession.” Matthew 16:21-23 – “From then on Jesus began to point out to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, “Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to You!” But He turned and told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.”
As far as Jesus was concerned, the kind of thinking that refuses to accept pain as part of God’s work in our lives could only proceed from the devil. Paul felt the same way. In today’s text, Paul described people who hold such opinions as seeking only after pleasure (“their god is their stomach”) and focused on earthly things. His conclusion was damning – “their end is destruction.”
Paul offers himself as a refreshing alternative. “Join in imitating me, brothers, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us” (v.17). He assures that Christ is coming to transform “our vile body” (KJV) or more appropriately, “the body of our humble condition” (HCSB) “into the likeness of His glorious body.” One day, this pain will be gone and we will have reasons to look back with thanksgiving. Paul obviously shares our Guiding Principle that says “to believe is to have hope.”
To think about: What leadership and example are you willing to show others, within your sphere of operation and influence, in your response to the issues surrounding HIV, especially ones that involves considerable pains?
Written By: Tunde Fowe. Director, Family Impact (Nigeria) and trained Churches, Channel of Hope Facilitator.